A while back, I texted my daughter.
Dinner is ready.
Her: Are you mad at me?
What? Why? I'm just saying that dinner is ready.
Her: Your period is really angry.
Perhaps you’ve encountered this yourself. These days, if your text message doesn’t end in an exclamation point, you come off as terse, and even (apparently) supremely pissed off. So, I guess dinner is ready! Hooray! Who knew we’d ever eat again?! *confetti emoji*
But there is something interesting about this phenomenon that applies to fiction writing–namely, while we toil over the perfect word choice to create the right mood and to elicit the intended emotions, those little flicks and curls are sitting there, waiting to do their own heavy lifting. They look small. But they can be mighty.
Here is a non-exclusive list of ways you can use punctuation to impact the emotion in your dialogue and narrative voice.
The Punchy Period:
Using full stops more frequently can add power and energy to your words. They can be used to emphasize an authoritarian voice because periods give the dialogue more control. For example:
“Today, you will be gathering stones from this field, beginning now and working until the sun goes down, and you hear my whistle.”
– versus –
“Today you will gather stones. You will start now. You will continue until the sun sets. Listen for my whistle.”
In which example does the prison guard command the most respect? In which example can you best hear the guard’s speaking voice? For most people, the answer to each of those questions is the dialogue with the most full stops.
But frequent full stops can also be used to indicate uncertainty, surprise, or the inability to understand; for example:
It was a ship. There. On the horizon. Yes. He was almost sure of it.
– and –
She stood. Right in front of him. Not at home with her mother. Not where she should be at all.
Frequent full stops can also show despair, like this example from Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín:
“Would you like me to call Miss Bartocci?” she asked.
“I don’t know what it is.”
“Are you sad?”
“All the time?”
Try using frequent end stops whenever you want to deliver an emotional punch.
But wait! There’s more. [Read more…]